Conference Review: Hexagon User Conference 2011

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What is Hexagon and what is the business of Hexagon? A company that decades ago was "importing tuna fish," according to CEO Ola Rollén, is now a key international player in geospatial products and services, metrology, design and process; this by acquiring and integrating a long list of established companies successful in their own right. Of key interest for surveyors is how this plays out for the future of the acquired lines of Leica Geosystems surveying and HDS products, Intergraph, and Novatel. From June 6-9, 2011 the first user conference brought all of the divisions of the Hexagon AB "umbrella" together in Orlando, Florida for the "Building a Smarter World" conference. The conference was not only an opportunity for end users to see new products and receive training, but also an opportunity for the divisions of Hexagon to interact and see where they and the end users fit into the vision and future of the company.

Conventional wisdom in the film industry is that you can’t sell a movie idea unless you can sum up the plot in a single sentence. I asked Rollén to summarize Hexagon in this manner. "Then we should be glad we are not making movies…" was his response, but then quickly added "actionable information," a catch phrase we would hear many times throughout the course of the conference. Rollén went on to explain that it will not do simply to collect and measure data, but to collect and measure only and precisely relevant data to make critical decisions, design, build, operate, and improve. Though slight in stature, Rollén cuts an imposing figure and is considered both a sometimes outspoken and feared but greatly respected leader in the company and industry. With an education in economics and having served in executive roles in companies like Sandvik Materials Technology, Avesta-Sheffield and Kantha (advanced metals and materials technology companies) Rollén became CEO of Hexagon in 2000.

The events and acquisitions since 2000 have formed the Swedish company Hexagon AB into the company it is today, with $3.5B annual sales, and more than 12,000 employees in 43 countries, while committing a full 12% of sales revenue annually into R & D. At first glance the divisions of Hexagon seem disparate and unrelated, especially to land surveyors, but Rollén and his deputies did a great job of showing how all are integral to the company vision of enabling "actionable information." How surveying fits in is actually a rather unique twist on this current trend for globalization of information-related industries; measurement is given a leading role, an oversight that many information-centric companies have tragically overlooked.

Delivering concise glimpses of the company vision with a quick wry wit, Rollén kicked off the keynote session by unveiling the new company logo; in part to herald the tenth anniversary of Hexagon as we now know it. Hexagon is now in the business of developing, as Rollén characterizes "new actionable information technologies built on our design, visualization and measurement technologies," this to meet the needs as he put it "[of] the rapid growth of the world’s population" and "mind boggling changes in our world." To this end Hexagon supports not only precision agriculture, but industries that process, package, preserve foods. But where does surveying fit into this? More on that as the keynotes unfolded… Rollén went on to explain the next steps. "More than half of the world’s population lives in cities..migration to urban areas from the countryside with great impact, [driving] needs for clever infrastructure, roads, sewer systems, and piping."

Leica Geosystems President Jurgen Dold, a surveyor (and proud of it) continued the keynote with the next logical step in this vision to support the growing world, "develop solutions to understand, plan, execute, and automate changes–changes to the earth, cities, and infrastructure, to bring precision to everyone, and to meet the increase of demand for mobility." On the subject of mobility, Dold presented the example: "In Europe when they speak of high speed rail they speak of 125mph, in Japan they go 180mph, and in Shanghai they want to go to 260mph. I tell you if you travel in one of these trains, you can truly appreciate if the surveyor used the high precision total station to make the track straight!"

Subsequent keynote speakers represented the other functional divisions of Hexagon. Norbert Hanke, president Hexagon Metrology (high precision industrial measurement) spoke of supporting over 100 industries ranging from medical devices to race cars. Gerhard Salinger, president of Intergraph Process Power and Marine tackled a touchy subject. "The problem with renewable energy is that it is great but will not be enough. Statistics show that we can only rely on 10 to 20% coming from renewable sources. We need to rely on oil, gas, nuclear, and coal for the next 30 to 40 years at least. [We need] to make those processes as efficient and powerful as possible, to design and operate smart and efficient plants." Another Intergraph president, John Graham, of their Security, Government and Infrastructure division underscored the need to "manage, enhance and protect life infrastructure property."

The conference brought together over 2,500 attendees from over 65 countries. By a show of hands there were about 40% who identified with the Intergraph side, and perhaps 20% for the Geosystems side. Primarily it was a user conference providing more than 30,000 hours in information sharing. Geosystems was able to showcase their latest lines of total stations, GNSS, and HDS gear highlighting several successful years of revitalized software development in surveying and operating software like the Viva line. Surveyors found full tracks of equipment and software centric training as well as some great end-use case presentations. A session presented by Dave Murtha, chief of parties for the Port of Oakland on the use of GNSS to help monitor clearance under the Oakland Bay Bridge of a giant crane imported from China was worthy of an adventure reality show; a striking video showed the crane clearing by only a few feet. And the session presented by Joe Betit of Bechtel on the monitoring of construction of the ground transportation improvements for Dulles Airport showed the challenges and technological solutions employed in such a complex project.

Leica’s Smartnet, a central hosting service for participating Spider RTN was presented at the end of a dedicated track on RTN. Smartnet has made impressive inroads into many states and provinces in North America. With Smartnet, an end user can register for access to all of the included RTN. Hexagon also supports numerous stand-alone Spider RTN; a fine presentation of the history of the statewide Michigan DOT RTN detailed the true "nuts and bolts" challenges and triumphs of their pioneering RTN.

The track for HDS was very much like that which attendees were familiar with at the successful and well attended past HDS conferences, much the same with the tracks for Intergraph solutions seen at equally successful past Intergraph conferences. Indications are that end users will likely see these previously separate conferences bundled into future Hexagon conferences bringing all of the lines together under one umbrella. So just how much of the rebranding of Hexagon will affect these acquired companies? Not much. There appears to be no desire to drop the successful brand names and product lines of Leica and Intergraph. I asked several of the Hexagon leadership about the likelihood o
f seeing the new logo on total stations, scanners, or GNSS units. No, these brands are respected and recognizable. "It would be a marketing mistake," as one put it. That does not discount the possibility that there may be some "second tier" products that might be marketed as Hexagon products.

While there is great emphasis on the information side of the company, that does not necessarily mean that Hexagon will become primarily a software company. Rollén did allude to the trend in the past few decades to enhance solutions and software offerings, "[Many years ago] IBM was a builder of hardware, [in those days] software people were viewed as weirdoes…" To thrive, a company cannot simply provide hardware without integrated solutions. Surveyors can rest assured that there will be no degradation of the commitment to the fine hardware and related software solutions they are accustomed to. In fact, the cross pollination of these varied divisions have benefitted greatly from the inclusion of surveying technologies into the mix. An example of mutual benefit is Hexagon Metrology.

Arguably the most visually striking and deep-geek facet of the conference was the offerings from the Metrology division. In addition to the high precision measurement scanning devices for precision manufacturing compliance and "as-builting" was an eye catching scanning pedestal demonstrated by Doug Sutphin, East Region Sales Director for Portable Metrology Products. An almost Sci-Fi style pedestal contains not only a full scanner, but also supports a handheld measurement device that is "tethered" to the pedestal by an array of infrared sensors. Doug demonstrated the capabilities on a NASCAR car on display on the exhibition floor. While surveying gear is classified as "macro" measurement, and geared toward results in millimeters or sub millimeters, metrology devices work down in the 20,000th of an inch and beyond; this is classified as "micro" measurement. That is not to say that Metrology didn’t learn things from this relationship with the surveying side. "We needed surveying to help us develop the "macro" side of Metrology, and to better understand the [nature] of data collection."

Surveying has benefitted from the activities of the other divisions. Intergraph process and plant solutions include the management of data from the field of Building Information Management (BIM), vital to developing "smarter" design, construction, as-builting, and operations of buildings, plants, and utilities systems. A new product that borrows heavily from the technology of total stations is the 3D Disto. This new device that was originally designed to enable precision layout and documentation of buildings is essentially a lower precision brother of a robotic total station. It can sit on the floor of a building, level itself, and after a few shots for orientation shoot (and photograph) any number of points in or on an object or building; all from a remotely operated data collector. Christian Schorr, Program Director for the 3D Disto Precision Tools Division modestly credits a large team with developing this unique new product, and was amused to hear some surveyors "blue-skying" some applications for his device to solve some common surveying conundrums–like the difficult as-built measurements we are tasked to perform in manholes and vaults. At around $10K, this device will either thrill or frighten many surveyors.

How do surveyors fit into the other lines of business? In more ways than we might imagine. I found surveyors engaged in almost every other division. A surveyor is still a surveyor even if he or she is involved in developing solutions for plant processes. "Who better understands the value of precise information and data collection?" asked Dold. Indeed, he explained that he see little merit in the ongoing trend towards redefining, or even renaming surveying. Instead he feels that surveyors should concentrate on embracing the wide range of activities and industries into which surveyors may find themselves applying their expertise. Often we find that someone with a background in surveying will likely always identify themselves as such.

An interesting booth in the exhibition hall that attracted some of the largest crowds was from the United Arab Emirates. Omar Al Marri of the Town Planning Survey Sector of the historic city of Al Ain proudly explained (over local palm dates and frighteningly strong cups of local tea) the effort to map and preserve the six major oases in the city limits. The plots, trees, and ancient sub-surface irrigation structures within these serene oasis areas have been in individual families for many generations. Deferring to local elders to settle issues of tenure, crews used Geosystems solutions like GNSS as much as possible and then total stations in poor sky areas to map the features. Then the Intergraph solutions provided the tools for GIS development, analysis and management.

Partner and end-use developers have taken the tools of the various divisions and integrated them even further. An example from a company called ACE Enterprise Slovakia has developed tools for an Intergraph front end and a data "interchange" backend to tap huge infrastructure management databases, like Oracle, SQL, and Maximo. CEO Alexander Cimbalak sported an almost Borg-like outfit consisting of a forearm mounted data collector, fingertip barcode scanners and a tablet to demonstrate how field operators could collect, update, and verify elements of even the largest infrastructure databases in real-time. He said that it is very easy and not uncommon to add positioning devices (surveying gear) to the mix.

Hexagon appears to be in a healthy growth in markets, which should be reassuring to their surveying customers. Much of this growth, however, is along the lines of large corporations in general; much of the growth is in global markets. While the U.S. markets may be somewhat lackluster, there are glimmers of hope as the sales of new equipment and the cost saving integration tools and solutions are on a rise (albeit a very slow but steady rise).

Hexagon certainly pulled out all of the stops for the conference experience. The main social and networking event saw Hexagon renting out the entire Universal Studios Islands of Adventure theme park. Following an evening of food and free drinks at the live clubs along the main street area, it was a rather unique experience to observe several thousand geeks crowding into Hogsmeade and Hogwarts to quaff butterbeer and tackle the vertigo inducing Harry Potter rides. So would attendance to future Hexagon conferences be a good investment for a surveyor? A surveyor would find everything they would expect at a surveying-centric conference in the way of product specific training and new product showcasing, so the answer would be yes, though a surveyor might feel a bit overwhelmed and perhaps both dazzled and disoriented by the offerings from the other divisions. This might be a good thing–as Dold indicated–maybe we surveyors need to open our eyes a bit.

Gavin Schrock is a surveyor in Washington State where he is the administrator of the regional cooperative real-time network, the Washington State Reference Station Network. He has been in surveying and mapping for more nearly 30 years and is a regular contributor to this publication.

The Macro Event
It’s a rather daunting task to even think about recapping an event with the scope of Hexagon 2011. In fact since each attendee was preassigned to one of three main tracks–Hexagon Metrology, Intergraph (Process, Power and Marine, or Security, Government and Infrastructure) or Geosystems, other than the General Keynote from Ola Rollén and the exhibit hall, it really was not possible for one person to fully embrace the entire conference.

From a macro statistics point of view more than 2,500 attendees
from at least 65 countries came to the largest Marriott resort in the world. With more than 400 sessions, three evenings of social events, and more than 30,000 hours of formal information sharing, Hexagon 2011 certainly provided the opportunity to understand how Hexagon AB is helping customers with the conference theme–"Building a Smarter World".

As a speaker I have not seen a higher level of organization and advance preparation than what the organizers of Hexagon 2011 delivered. The entire event, including transporting 1500+ people to Universal Studios for an evening of great fun, which included some pretty crazy roller coasters, seemed to go off without a hitch. Congratulations to all the event planners for a truly first class event.

Ola Rollén, President and CEO of Hexagon AB opened the event with an impressive multi-media presentation. For me, although the title of his presentation was "Turning the Pace of Change into the World’s Advantage", I preferred one of the sub-titles–"Design, Measure, Visualize". This is where Hexagon has the opportunity to make the three major groups add up to more than the sum of the parts.

To some, Rollén’s speech may have lacked for detail on the integration of at least Intergraph and Geosystems, but as he pointed when I asked him about this at the press luncheon, it has only been six months since the Intergraph acquisition has been finalized. I can assure you having spent some time in his presence that Hexagon has a strong leader in charge, and although he may not have provided a lot of product level integration details, he has a clear and pragmatic vision of where he believes this company can go.

Ola’s keynote included presentations from each of the CEO’s of the key divisions–Metrology, Intergraph and Geosystems. I think this was an important opportunity to begin the process of cross pollination of the customer groups, and each of the CEOs took full advantage of their time to show how their solutions contribute to the overall Hexagon vision.

After a number of comic relief sketches by a song and dance group called the Watercoolers (different, to say the least) the stage shifted to the three individual tracks. For many of us who had attended the HDS User Conference this past October in San Ramon, California it was a bit of déjà vu, but Juergen Dold, CEO of Geosystems provided his usual high energy overview of the Geosystems business, and Ken Mooyman, NAFTA CEO, filled in the product details of the six major solution areas where Geosystems is focused–Survey and Engineering, Building and Construction, High Definition Survey/Scanning, Digital Imaging, Mining, and Agriculture.

The remainder of the conference, at least for the Geosystems track, was then broken into a series of sub-tracks. Although I assume it was possible to attend sessions in the other tracks, such as metrology, the agenda that each of us received when we checked in did not include the other two primary tracks. I did not check to see if these agendas were available on line, but I think this was a lost opportunity to allow customers to at least become aware of the other sessions being offered and perhaps even attend if they found something of interest.

As luck would have it, the first technical session that I attended turned out to be one of the most important of the entire conference. I guess the title, which included a hint of things to come, attracted me to the session, "How to Develop Plant As-Built Deliverables Quicker and More Accurately using a Combination of Intergraph Software and a Leica Geosystems Total Station". This is the kind of integration message that I was hoping to hear and in this session it came through loud and clear.

The software in question—CADWorx—is actually an AutoCADbased piping solution that Intergraph purchased a number of years ago, which is a separate story in itself. At the end of the session a question was asked from the audience and when the presenter was finished providing his answer the Intergraph Product Manager for CADWorx stood up and provided additional information about how the integration with Geosystems was going to be improved in the next release.

That was my "aha" moment of the conference when I realized that it would be customers, not senior management who would be the drivers of integration between Intergraph, Geosystems and Hexagon Metrology. In this case it was somewhat obvious for the Intergraph PM to attend this Geosystems’ session, but regardless by bringing together the three customer groups and providing them with the opportunity to share their thoughts and requests the "fertile ground" for where it makes sense to integrate the products will be exposed.

The Geosystems track was actually split into 3 sub-tracks–Geospatial, High Definition Surveying/3D Laser Scanning and Trends in Mapping and Positioning for Government and Industry. Geoff Jacobs did his usual outstanding job of organizing and insuring that the HDS-track provided real value to the audience. The Geospatial sub-track was focused on airborne LiDAR sensors and their application in areas like emergency response. The Mapping and Positioning sub-track emphasized the use of GPS/GNSS and traditional survey methods, but also included an overview of machine control and BIM-enabled layout.

A couple of the more interesting HDS sessions included:
• A report from Sweden on a project where the contractor claimed to have saved 10 times the cost of scanning services in reduced use of floor leveling materials. 
• A presentation by Dr. G. Walsh revealed the incredible level of testing that goes into every scanner prior to it being shipped. 
• How Aveva is doing clash detection with Cyclone by working directly with the point cloud rather than converting to a 3D CAD model. 
• The importance of communicating with clients about the required level of detail prior to the start of the project through standard documents that the service provider had prepared. 
• How a contractor in England is saving millions of dollars on turbine blade installation in power plants with HDS and laser trackers.

New Products
There were a number of new product announcements within the Geosystems family. From HDS the big news was the C5 scanner, a detuned version of the C10 that comes with a price tag under $50,000 (USD). It would seem that this is in direct response to FARO’s low cost scanner–the Focus3D. The way the C5 is being positioned Geosystems customers now have a much lower cost entry point, but over time they can upgrade the unit all the way to a C10.

On the construction side the excitement was on the 3D Disto. In fact the 3D Disto is a tripod-mounted scanner, albeit a slow one, but for building measurement and construction layout the 3D capabilities are a breakthrough. The 3D Disto is going to fill, and in some respects create its own niche in that in can measure, project and record–all that for $8,000 (USD). If you are in the building construction market this is a must-see product.

And last but not least, the product– actually a prototype–that created the most buzz was a tablet computer app with the ability to visualize laser scans as if you were immersed in them. It’s not that easy to describe, but as you moved the tablet around it tracked the movement and panned to the corresponding scene. You could also tip it up and down and it would track the scenes in the vertical direction. The working product name “Immersivity” tells it all. With the amount of attention that senior management was paying to this concept look for HDS to have something in this category before too long.

Wrap Up
I think anyone who attended Hexagon 2011 will agree that this was an extremely well organized and first class event. From the early conference promotion to the final session
s all involved are to be congratulated. As noted I would like to see the opportunity to attend sessions outside of one’s main area of interest as this is how customers can drive innovation and integration, but I am sure more of that took place informally than was being recorded.

With a full year to plan Hexagon 2012, one can only imagine what next year’s event in Las Vegas is going to be like.

Gene Roe has more than 40 years’ experience in the surveying and mapping field with a particular interest in disruptive technology. He is the Editor of LiDAR News and provides strategic consulting services worldwide. Roe has his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, is a registered professional engineer and a licensed land surveyor in New York.

A 1.474Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE